Minnesota's "Land of 10,000 Lakes" slogan isn't mere hype—from unnamed country ponds to the sea-like majesty of Lake Superior, the state has aquatic splendor to spare.
It's no surprise, then, that there's plenty of good food to be eaten by the shores of the state's rivers, lakes and waterfalls. Where there's open water, there's often delicious meals to be had (and usually good local brews or cocktails, to boot) at a host of great eateries that range from old-fashioned supper clubs to up-to-date casual seafood restaurants.
Angry Trout Cafe, Grand Marais
One the state's best-regarded farm-to-table (and lake-to-table) dining spots is the humble but ambitious Angry Trout Cafe in Grand Marais, where dishes like Lake Superior whitefish and grilled bison tenderloin share the menu with accessible fare such as fish and chips and maple-grilled chicken breast. The restaurant's relationship with the next door Dockside Fish Market means that much of its seafood is literally straight-off-the-dock fresh.
Birch's on the Lake, Long Lake
Birch's is the unique combination of a supper club and brewhouse. Upstairs you will find supper club favorites like chops, steaks, fish and more with a large bar, cozy fireplace and picturesque views of Long Lake. Head downstairs for a lively brewhouse with community tables and an equally delicious menu of burgers, salads, barbecue and small plates. The large deck provides the best view of the water with charming cafe lights and a roaring campfire. If you like craft beer, peruse the ever-changing list of brews including the popular coffee chocolate golden ale or a rotating shandy.
Boat House, Winona
Light, approachable New American fare (everything from tacos to panko-crusted catfish) make dining at the Mississippi River-overlooking Boat House a relaxing breeze—and don't miss brunch, either.
Canal Park Brewing, Duluth
This popular brewpub is primely positioned on the shore of Lake Superior in Duluth's popular Canal Park. The large patio is a hot spot for thirsty and hungry travelers, so get there early to nab a table. For a small bite, try the charcuterie plate with an array of meat and cheese selected by the chef and accompanied by a tasty IPA mustard, tempura-fried caulilni (baby cauliflower) with soy ginger sauce, or the rotating flavors of the hummus plate.
If you're looking for something a little heartier, try the Canal Park Club with house-made cranberry chutney, Lake Superior fish sandwich, or the Stoned Surf fish and chips battered with the brewery's IPA.
Lord Fletcher's Old Lake Lodge, Spring Park
Less a restaurant than a full-fledged, full-bore lakeside party, this sprawling multi-venue Lake Minnetonka-adjacent supper club and sports bar booms in the warmer months. Lord Fletcher's more than 100 boat slips mean that it's equally accessible by land or by water, making the eatery's steaks, walleye sandwiches and lobster rolls accessible to all.
On the shore of Lake Minnetonka, Maynard's has been serving hungry and thirsty patrons since 1998. The large lakeside patio can seat up to 500 guests and features a roaring stone fireplace for cooler nights. Dine on the Mr. Jimmy burger named after Excelsior's former ambassador, Jimmy Hutmaker, or spice it up with the firecracker shrimp tacos. Snack on walleye fingers, Szechwan spicy green beans or waffle fries. Cool off with a refreshing mojito, Moscow Mule or sip a brew from the hometown brewery, Excelsior Brewing Co.
Sea Salt Eatery, Minneapolis
The waterside dining spot of Minneapolis par excellence, Sea Salt, which sits a few hundred feet from the famous falls at Minnehaha Park, boasts serious shrimp and oyster po'boys, excellent Asian-inspired curry dishes, local brews, live music and first-rate ice cream via Sebastian Joe's. If the day is a particularly fine one and you arrive during prime time, you may be greeted by a line that emerges from the building and wraps around it. Grab a beer and get in line—it moves quickly, and the food is worth the wait.
Spanky's Stone Hearth, Frazee
From the moment you walk into Spanky's Stone Hearth, you'll get cozy "up north" vibes thanks to the large stone fireplace and woodwork. Take advantage of the warm weather on the deck with views of Rose Lake, or request a table by the window inside. Signature #OnlyinMN dishes include the State Fair meatballs, pork chops from nearby Battle Lake and pan-fried walleye. The dishes are complemented with fresh produce and herbs from the restaurant's large garden. Adventurous diners can order the "Trust Me" special, where the chefs surprise you with a meal. Past specials have included swordfish, salmon, halibut and short ribs.
Zorbaz, Multiple Locations
Zorbaz on the Lake has taken its pizzaz, nachoz, wingz and burritoz formula for success to 11 locations, including Detroit Lakez, Big Zandy, Park Rapidz, Green Lake in Zpicer and Pokegama Lake in Grand Rapidz (all Z's courtesy of Zorbaz in-house style guide). An extensive craft beer list, live music, late-night menus, and an all-purpose wacky sense of fun make this a Mexican-pizza chain with heart and soul—plus plum waterside real estate. A handful of locationz offer free docks for hungry folks on the lake.
James Norton is the author of Lake Superior Flavors (University of Minnesota Press), a guide to eating and drinking on the Lake Superior Circle Tour. He is currently the editor and publisher of Heavy Table.
Want to know the best spots in Minnesota? How about tips on how to make the most of your time in a specific city? Our Minnesota experts can answer your questions, offer advice, or plan the perfect Minnesota trip for you. For free.